Underrated: No success like failure

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An ingenious friend of mine once came up with an idea for a new specialist publication: Loser, a magazine aimed at hopeless failures. Part of the beauty of this concept was that it would involve no effort, since the kind of losers who might work for such a publication would, by definition, be far too incompetent to produce so much as a single issue. There was never any question, however, who ought to grace the cover of that hypothetical issue. Step forward, Homer Simpson.

In this sense, it's wholly fitting that Homer's reputation should have have been eclipsed by his son Bart; Homer is such a consummate loser that you would naturally expect him to be outclassed by a 10-year-old under-achiever. But, as Bob Dylan once observed, there's no success like failure, and regarded in terms of his comic possibilities rather than his career prospects, poor Homer is a dazzling success - the jewel in the crown, the chocolate icing on the doughnut of the most wittily insolent and inventive show American television has exported in years.

To be sure, Homer isn't a wholly original character. How could he be, when he is an exaggerated development of every dopey paterfamilias of American sitcom history, from Fred Flintstone to Dan, John Goodman's part in Roseanne? Still, Homer has the kind of profound stupidity that can only be conceived by highly knowing people, with a wicked taste for biting the audiences that feed them. It's not surprising to learn that Matt Groening, who created the series, is an avid fan of the late Frank Zappa.

Part of the joke is that Homer's dumbness is cast into vivid relief by the sophistication of the show's other jokes. (Hence the insolence of The Simpsons: how many of the pre-teens who tune in to BSkyB and settle down to watch Bart settling down to watch The Itchy and Scratchy Show will catch its quips about Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag?) Homer is a richly comic invention, though, and there's far more to him than idiocy. There's also sloth (Homer nods), gluttony, rage, the pride that comes before a pratfall and a dim awareness that the Homeric worldview, cobbled together from grimy residues of a television culture, might not be quite adequate for living the good life. Or, to paraphrase that last sentiment in terms that Homer himself would use: Doh]